The Madonnas of Leningrad
By Debra Dean
Published by William Morrow 2006
Paperback from Harper Perennial 2007
This is a beautiful story, about Marina, an elderly Russian woman who, in the 21st century is slowly forgetting her family, due to the ravages of Alzheimers. In her mind, Marina keeps returning to the Seige of Leningrad in the Second World War, some sixty years previously.
During the seige, Marina was a tour guide at the famous Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. During the seige, the museum employees are charged with removing the artworks from their frames, and being packed away and then sent to a safe place. After they were removed to safety, the employees are hidden in the Museum basement along with their families, where they survive that first terrible winter of the seige. (winter of 1941).
Marina keeps herself sane by walking through the Museum rooms and creating a memory picture in her head. She tries to remember the details of every picture in every frame. It is a lot of mental work, but somehow Marina knows it will help her survival.
The author does an excellent job of describing what it is like to live with Alzheimers - her grandparents both suffered from it. She also did a lot of research about the Hermitage Museum, and the artworks they hold. In fact Debra was not able to visit the Museum until after the book was published.
Marina knew lots of artists names - Rubens, Rembrandt, Titian, Leonardo, Caravaggio, Gainsborough, etc. I personally love art, and art history, which is why I purchased this book.
I am writing this at my brother-in-laws house, and will upload some pictures on Xmas day.